What will the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Project do with its $1M Arctic Inspiration Prize?

The Arctic Inspiration Wellness Project will bring Indigenous traditional on-the-land healing and inspiration to an urban setting.

7 other Northern teams awarded funds from projects across Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut

Be'sha Blondin, Nicole Redvers and Rassi Nashalik are part of the Arctic Indigenous Wellness Foundation, which was awarded the 2018 $1M Arctic Inspiration prize for its project to develop an Indigenous wellness centre in Yellowknife. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Eight teams from across the North were awarded a share of $2.4 million Wednesday evening at the Arctic Inspiration Prize's sixth annual award gala in Ottawa.

The Arctic Indigenous Wellness Project received the top prize of $1 million.

The project is conceived as a traditional healing program for at-risk Inuit, First Nation and Métis in the Northwest Territories. The project will bring Indigenous cultural education and traditional on-the-land interventions and counselling to an urban setting.

"Some of the modern conventional ways of accessing these clients is not really working to their best advantage," said Yellowknife's Nicole Redvers, the project chair and team leader.

"Why not bring the land to them and try to create programs where we could have some sort of traditional health practices being done connecting people back to their cultures and their identities?"

Redvers and the other project leaders have been working on bringing the concept to life for more than a year. She said a site has already been selected near the new Stanton Territorial hospital under construction. Redvers said the plan is to set up canvas tents and teepees for traditional healing, counselling and education. 

"This will catapult the work that we've been doing. We're not only excited to be able to provide services in Yellowknife … but to be able to get into some of the communities as well."

Redvers said the long term plan is to take the concept to communities across the Northwest Territories, many of which have already said they are interested in the project: "We really hope to be able to allow those regions to bring out some of their long held practices to help their own people."

"Our intent was to start out in tents," Redvers said. "We want to pitch up the tents and start as soon as we can."

7 more winners

The Unaaq Men's Association of Inukjuak, Nunavik was awarded $500,000 for an intensive traditional program that will pair youth with elders to promote "self-esteem, leadership, and pride while sharing traditional Inuit knowledge across the Nunavik region." The project is led by Tommy Palliser, with the Nunavik Marine Regional Wildlife Board.

Our Families, Our Way: The Peacemaking Circle is a Yukon project to support families and children at risk. The project was awarded $500,000, and is lead by Lori Duncan of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation.

A second Nunavut project — the Qajaq Program — is lead by Glen Brocklebank in Chesterfield Inlet. It is a project that will see Inuit elders teach Nunavut youth to build and paddle their own qajaqs based on traditional boat designs.

Four youth teams from across the North were also awarded funds: $100,000 to the Dene Heros Publication Project, led by Colville Lake, N.W.T.'s Dakota Orlias; $80,000 to the Rankin Rock Hockey Camp, a project led by David Clark of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, to promote healthy lifestyles and youth leadership; $100,000 to Rivers to Ridges, a land-based education project led by Erin Nicolardi and Emily Payne in Whitehorse; and $20,000 to the North in Focus: Nunavut, Our Land, Our People, a project led by Ashley Cummings to build capacity for a mental health and wellness program.

The founders of the Arctic Inspiration Prize, Sima Sharifi and Arnold Witzig, announced a gift valued at $60 million to the award's trust fund.

In November, the two projects that were shortlisted for the the $1-million prize were announced. The From-the-Land Food Ambassadors Program, led by Jackoline Milne, president of the Northern Farm Training Institute, was not awarded a prize.

With files from Loren McGinnis